Breanna Reynolds had dealt with enough hardships. An emotionally abusive ex-husband and a messy divorce convinced her she would never be happy again. Now, her ex is taking his anger at her out on the children, and she must decide what to do to save her children.
Zack Vincent is used to getting what he wants, immediately, and with no questions. When Breanna divorces him, he can't believe that she actually doesn't love him. The web of deceit he spins to win her back traps him into a life of poverty and discontent. When he is taken to court for custody, Zack decides that he must do something. He needs to kill two birds with One Stone.
That click. That horrible, menacing click. That single unmistakable sound stopped all rationale thought and triggered the fight or flight response inherent in every human being. Instinct said to run, self preservation said to fight, but reason said, “FREEZE!”
The cold metal of the gun barrel pressing against the back of the neck is the only proof that there was no mistaking the origin of that awful sound.
“Did you honestly think I would allow this to go on forever? Did you really think you were so much smarter than me that I would not see what you were doing?” The voice was a harsh whisper, invoking the body’s natural urge to release all bodily functions when frightened to the point of death.
“Now,” the voice said, “I trust that you will come quietly.”
There is nothing quite like a mid-fall morning. The birds’ song waking you from your bed, the bright dawn sunlight streaming through your kitchen window, or the chill in the air that just begged to be warmed by the scent of fresh apple pie or roast turkey. Yes, this was by far Breanna’s favorite time of the year.
Turning from her morning newspaper, she glanced at the clock on the stove. There were still a few minutes before she had to wake the boys to get ready for school. Taking a sip from her coffee, she glanced back down at the to-do list she had begun compiling that morning. “Groceries”, she jotted down. At times, life seemed so hectic that Breanna was sure that if she did not pencil it in, she would forget to go to the bathroom.
Sighing, she rose from the kitchen table to begin her morning routine. It was much easier to just have the boys lunches packed before they woke and the entire household descended into cheerful pandemonium. As Breanna moved through the kitchen, she took note of what she would need to pick up from the supermarket.
Life was good, if not easy, for twenty eight year old Breanna Reynolds. On her second marriage with three children and another planned, life often seemed like one big merry-go-round and she was the conductor. Her two older boys were from her previous marriage. Bright, alert and charming young lads, Breanna could not help but take a certain amount of pride in their accomplishments.
John, her husband, often worked out of town for months at a time, leaving Breanna to care for the children and house exclusively. To distract herself, she often filled her days with activities. Volunteering at the boys’ school, shuttling them back and forth from their various activities and caring for her two year old daughter, Justice. Little Justice was a handful, to be sure, but she never ceased to ease her mother’s aching heart for her father.
Sliding the last juice box into the lunch bag, it was time to get her daughter ready to take to Grandma’s before the boys went off to school. She had an early meeting with her lawyer today and she did not want to be late.
The boys’ father, Zack, had become a serious concern as of late, and Breanna was getting tired of her children coming home from visits with their father with fresh tales of neglect and the bruises to prove it. The marks were becoming more and more frequent, and each time, she would call him, demanding an explanation. The pitiful refrain of, “I thought that happened at your house” had gotten so repetitive that Breanna could mouth the words with perfect time to Zack saying them.
A few weeks before, her eldest, David had come with a full handprint bruise on one upper arm and she had decided enough was enough. The madness had to stop somewhere, and she had phoned John to discuss retaining an attorney. He had approved of her decision with little convincing, and asked to be kept informed of the progress.
The time for solitary thought ended with the distinctive sound of pint-sized pattering feet on tile floor. “Morning!” came the sweet little voice of her rather rambunctious daughter. “Good morning, sweet pea. Did you sleep well?” Breanna inquired of the toddler without missing a step in her routine. “Yeah!” Said the little girl as she scampered past to the living room to turn on her favorite morning cartoons.
“Boys!” Breanna called out, “Time to get up!” Her morning then dissolved into a blur of hustle and bustle to get out of the door.
“Breanna, I think you have a very good case, but the judge will not grant sole custody simply based on your gut feeling that something bad is happening. You have to have proof!” At fifty-two, Joanna Parsons was a straight shooting attorney. Almost thirty years in the business had taught her one thing. There is no such thing as a “sure victory”. Especially when it comes to custody suits. Often, despite all of the evidence pointing to the contrary, the judge would decide it was in the best interest of the child to be shuttled between two parents until the age of eighteen.
“Joanna, I have more than a gut feeling. I have witnesses. I have medical records, school records and pictures of the injuries. I have the boys who tell me the most appalling stories…” Breanna said, her voice crackling with the memory of the story she was told of this past weekend. She was beginning to panic over the thought that she just may lose, and her children would be made to suffer the consequences of her inconveniencing of their father.
“I know. I know, I have read all of the affidavits. I have looked into the records, and I have seen the pictures. What I am saying is that judges are unpredictable. Especially in New Mexico.”
It was true. Here, in northern New Mexico, it was not about who was right or wrong, who was guilty or not guilty. Rather it was about whom was related to whom. If your ex happened to be related, no matter how distantly, to the judge, it was all over. Never mind if he was a horrible person, unfit to have one child, let alone six, it simply did not matter. Breanna knew this may be her only chance at saving her children from a lifetime of instability and sorrow. This latest statement from her attorney almost had her seizing up in a panic attack.
“Furthermore,” Joanna continued, “The children are simply too young to have their statements taken as evidence by the court. They have to be at least fourteen for the judge to even consider listening to them.”
“That is another five years, Joanna. Five years that my children simply do not have! They have already waited eight years for their suffering to end. They cannot wait another five, and I, for one, am not about to make them if there is something I can do about it.”
The silent fear, that if something did not change, her children may not live another five years, remained unspoken. Both women knew it, and the weight of that knowledge hung in the room as heavy as cigar smoke.
Those eight years had truly felt like a test from God for her children and Breanna knew it. After the divorce, Zack had taken it into his mind to move another young woman into his home and start procreating again as quickly as possible. This would have been fine, according to Breanna, if he had a proper job; proper housing and he paid his child support. The fact remained that he would take work only if it paid in cash, under the table, so he could avoid wage garnishment, his house was a dump and the child support was a joke to begin with.
When Zack and his new woman, Tina, had decided to have another child, Breanna had been outraged. It seemed that he was doing everything in his power to replace his older children as quickly as possible. Despite their having several children together and Tina’s constant state of pregnancy, the couple seemed to engage in physical altercations, often when her boys were present.
The more children Zack and Tina had, the more strained the relationship between the children and their father became. The child support came less frequently, forcing Breanna to work longer hours to make up the difference. Finally, adding insult to injury, Zack had taken her back to court to eliminate the child support altogether. Citing that he now had several more children to care for, Zack had asked the court to do away with his obligation altogether. Instead, the court had reduced it to a ridiculous amount.
With this small victory in his corner, Zack hadn’t felt the need to improve his relationship with his boys, and his punishments of them became increasingly punitive and brutal. When the children had started coming home with a collage of bruises, Breanna’s heart had broken for them. Then the nightmares had started, the begging to not be sent to their father’s, and she had only been able to sit by and watch while her children had been sent, once again, back into battle.
“No, Joanna, I am sorry, but right now, failure is not an option. I don’t know what you have to do, but do it. Set my boys free.”
Zack Vincent removed the ball cap and swiped a grimy forearm over his sweating brow. It wasn’t a hot day. October couldn’t be hot in these mountains. His sweat was from four hours of plastering an adobe house without a break. The client wanted the job done before the first real storm of the season, and for that kind of money, Zack didn’t figure his boss would argue any. The effort it took to make sure the plaster went on smooth was sapping his energy this morning and he figured he had earned himself a break.
As he reached into his truck for his water bottle, he remembered the manila envelope he had left inside the previous afternoon. Pulling it out of his glove compartment, he noticed the name of a law firm at the top. He had a pretty good idea what this was. “Breanna jerking my chain again.” He muttered to himself as he ripped the envelope open. He began to scan the official looking papers. One was apparently a motion and there was another sheaf of papers filled with questions about his finances and stuff.
Turning back to the motion, he lit a cigarette as he began to read. The further into it he got, the angrier he became. How dare she say that he was hurting the kids! Sure, he had grabbed David by the arm, but the kid had such a smart mouth! Sometimes, Zack had to get rough with him for the kid to listen.
“When did disciplining your child become a federal offense?” he wondered as he took an angry drag on the smoke. It wasn’t like he was beating them with a belt anymore. And what was the big deal about him locking the kid out on the porch? It was only for a half an hour, it’s not like he had been hurt.
With a scoff of disgust, he threw the papers down on to the seat. He was going to have to ask mom and dad for the money for a lawyer. His dad was going to yell at him. Again! God, he wished Breanna would just die and make his life easier!
Breanna was a bundle of nerves these days. She knew that her lawyer had sent out the papers last week and Zack should have gotten them by now. She also knew that he was juvenile enough to take out his anger at her on the kids when they next went to visit. The next thirty days were a waiting game. If he filed a response with the court within the thirty day time frame, a hearing date would be set for ten days from his response. On the one hand, she hoped he would respond quickly so they could just get this over with. On the other hand, she didn’t want to go through the whole process until absolutely necessary.
It was Wednesday now. David and Alex would be going on Friday for their visit with their dad. Breanna was afraid of the suffering she knew they were going to be put through due to Zack’s frustration that he couldn’t get to her. Abuse by proxy was a concept that she had never even heard of, let alone understood, until it became her reality. Parents using the children to get to each other, like pawns on a chessboard. Harassment of family members because they couldn’t get to you. The list of examples seemed endless.
Baking always seemed to calm Breanna, but as she sliced the freshly peeled apples, she couldn’t seem to get her mind to focus. Now that it was all coming down to the wire, she wondered if she possibly could have made a mistake. She had spent her whole life second guessing her instincts. When she would decide on a course of action, several people would rush at her with their suggestions, opinions and “better ways”. All would tell her conflicting angles on the topic until she was so mixed up, she just threw in the towel. If it hadn’t been for John, she probably never would have figured out how to listen to her own heart and not the opinions of others.
“Honey, you are a big girl now. You are married with children. You are smart, funny and sweet. You know what needs to be done, and you even know how to get it done. Stop worrying about whether it is the right thing or not. You know that it is.” As she tossed the apples with the flour and sugar, the words still danced in her mind. John made a point of calling her each evening to say goodnight to the kids and to talk to her about their day. Recalling his words from the night before, she stiffened her resolve to see this through to the end.
As she lay on their bed, alone in the dark with the phone pressed to her ear, Breanna could almost feel his comforting warmth next to her. “I know, John, but I am just so worried. David is still really upset about his birthday and this latest tangle with his father did not help. Alex is just a wreck. It seems that he is the favorite one for Zack to pick on. You know, their dad is still telling them the divorce was all my fault. They don’t believe him, of course, but I am sure that it is not helping their little psyches any to know that. In fact, I think it makes it worse. “
“Sweetie, you are right. I know that doesn’t help any. After all, what good is it to be right when you can’t really do anything about it? I know that you are having a hard time with this. I know that this has to be stressful on you. It is only natural that you would be wondering if you are doing the right thing. All I can tell you is, you will know you did the right thing when it is all said and done.”
She knew he was right. Furthermore, she knew that she was right. She was tired of her children having to sit by and watch while their father went about proving to his new wife that he loved her far more than he had ever loved Breanna. It was evident every time the boys came home, recanting the horrors of the weekend before. It seemed that David and Alex were considered something of free labor. When Breanna would inquire how their weekend was, it was almost certain that they would begin a virtual narrative of cleaning their father’s house while he and Tina sat by and watched. Often, they were relentlessly bullied by their younger siblings while the children’s mother watched with glee. Breanna was all for chores for children, but was not too keen on a modern day equivalent of a concentration camp.
She was not naïve. It was a very real possibility that the boys were exaggerating a bit to garner sympathy from her. However, this did not explain the marks and bruises, nor did it excuse their father’s lack of concern when it came to these. When one of the boys would come home with fresh marks, marks she knew could not be from boys being boys, she would call Zack to ask him about them. As their mother, she made sure that he was kept up to date on everything. If they fell on the playground at school and skinned a knee, he was informed. It was only natural that she would ask for the same in return. Yet, every time, the phone call would end in frustration because Zack would insist that he had no idea what she was talking about.
There were times that Breanna swore this was all an act on his part. It was not possible that a grown man of twenty six could possibly be that thick. Or that stupid. And still, the dance of idiocy continued every week. From the goose egg on David’s head where his little sister had thrown a rock at him, to the marks under Alex’s eye from his little brother scratching him without any reprieve from Tina, Breanna knew it was not possible that all of these incidents had gone unnoticed by their father. Still, nothing was being done by him, and she wondered why.
David and Alex sat at the kitchen table, their school books in front of them, pumping their neurons as Breanna fixed supper. David scratched his head, doing his best to work out the complicated sum in front of him. Alex shifted in his seat, fidgeting from the effort it took to concentrate on his reading assignment.
This was their routine. Doing homework while dinner was being prepared, then sitting down at the table to talk about their day. Justice would be getting as much food on her face as she did in her mouth. The boys would wolf down their supper, and before you knew it, it was time for showers, stories and bed.
Often, her days were so filled with activity that Breanna hardly had time to worry about anything. However, as Friday drew near, her nerves began to fray. She did not want to send the boys with their father, and yet, there was nothing she could do about it. An insomniac anyway, Breanna found herself completely unable to sleep at night, the “what ifs” swirling about in her mind, refusing to turn off. During these time, she would clean to keep her mind occupied, scrubbing away at countertops and toilets to avoid seeing the problem. The activities were a desperate attempt to exhaust her body to the point of collapsing in sleep no matter what her brain said. Lately, even that strategy had begun to fail her.
Standing from the table, she took her plate to the sink. It was so hard, pretending that everything was fine when every nerve was standing on end. Experience told her that this could get really bad, really fast, and she wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. The worst part was, she could not completely protect her children from it.
Removing the tray from Justice’s high chair, she wiped her daughter’s face with a wet paper towel. The spaghetti was a big hit with the kids, and the child’s face showed how much she had enjoyed it. “Boys, I am going to give your sister a bath. When you are done, stack your plates in the sink and then you can put on a movie or play your video games for while.” Giving these instructions while balancing the squirmy baby on her hip, Breanna saw the boys rolling their eyes. “Ok, mom.” They replied in turn. She wasn’t surprised. Every night after dinner, she gave the same instructions. They must get tired of hearing them. She wasn’t quite sure why she felt the need to relay them time and again, she just did.
Ten miles across town, a completely different, and much more chaotic scene was taking place. The sound of screeching children and forks hitting plates did little to calm Zack’s mood. With four children in the house, it often felt like a zoo. More often than not, his wife’s niece joined the household while her mother went out, searching for another replacement father. That is, looking for another schmuck to take on her and her daughter.
Zack could not get those papers out of his mind. Although he had spent the rest of the day at work thinking about them, and what to do, he still didn’t have the first clue how to go about it. Coming home to start dinner, he had felt even worse. He remembered a time when he would come home from work, and Breanna had dinner ready for him. Tina was nothing like Breanna. At first, that had pleased him. He had been so hurt by the divorce, so lonely, that when Tina made a move for him, he had done nothing to halt it. In fact, he had welcomed the change.
Everything had been fine at first. He had wanted more children, and she had professed to want the same. When she had gotten pregnant, he was elated. Breanna had wanted to wait for more children, he did not. He didn’t see why she should have a say anyway. It’s not like she was the man or anything. Oh, sure, she was the one out working and paying the bills while he stayed home with the kids, but, didn’t that she that he should have final say in how many kids he was willing to care for?
Yes, Tina was nothing like Breanna. Breanna was smart, too damn smart for her own good if he had anything to say about it. Tina was still in high school when they met, and obviously didn’t want to go to college. The height of her ambition was finding someone to marry her while she stayed at home. Zack had figured he could make her get a job after the baby was born and she was stuck with him. He wanted to stay home with the kids while she earned the money. What he failed to realize was, two lazy people never get ahead.
Breanna read books for fun, Tina hated books and preferred television and video games. Most importantly, however, Tina didn’t care how they lived, just do they could pay the bills. Breanna had wanted the nice house and cars and was willing to work her keister off to get it. He had relied on that, but she had expected him to work too, and he just couldn’t have that. Now, he told himself that he hadn’t wanted strangers raising their children. One of them had to be home for them. At the time, however, he just didn’t want to work and was enjoying living off of his wife and spending her money. He especially appreciated the prime pieces of ass he got when he bought the other girls expensive gifts of Breanna’s credit cards.
On many levels, he missed Breanna, if only because he knew he would have had an easier ride while with her. But the woman was so damn stubborn. So what if he had slept with her best friend? She was his wife, sanctioned by God, and what the man decides to do, the woman is supposed to never question. That was her problem. She didn’t know her place. She had these crazy notions that a woman was equal to a man, and he couldn’t stand that logic. Not to mention, his father hated her. He made that obvious every time Breanna wouldn’t follow with what Zack had decided. “You need to control your woman, son. She is getting out of control. Why is she the one out working? Why aren’t you being a man and earning the living? It is your job to provide the money and the discipline, it is her job to be home raising the babies and getting pregnant.”
Even now, his father’s disapproval was like a knife in his heart. He knew he was a disappointment to his parents. Not being able to control his wife and allowing their marriage to end in divorce had almost killed them. “What will the neighbors say? What will the church say?” were the questions his mother had put to him during the early days of the divorce. It was clear he was going to need a new girl and fast.
Unfortunately, Zack had gotten far more than he had bargained for. Tina may have been different from Breanna in every way, but even she wouldn’t tolerate his activities with other women. Whereas Breanna had tried to work through the first one and then divorced him after the second, Tina had come at him with an ax. This had alerted his parents to his philandering, and they had made their position on that point very clear indeed. He knew then, if he ditched another bitch, his parents would pull all funding. If anything had taught him to keep his peter in his pocket, it had been the threat of his parents not helping him support himself. Hell, half the time, they were the ones paying the child support to Breanna. And why should he give her any money anyway? She was the one who had supported him, he should have asked for alimony. As it was, Tina was squeezing his balls every month when the paycheck came in with money missing. The state had gotten tired of waiting for Zack to get his act together and had started garnishing his wages. That was a fight to end all fights. Tina had raged for days after that development.
As the kids finished up their burritos, Zack started the dishes. It was a mystery to him how Tina managed to earn her keep around here. She didn’t clean a damn thing during the day, telling him how exhausted she was from taking care of the kids all day the second he walked in the door. The bitch doesn’t even fuck well. She would just lay there and let him do what he wanted. She couldn’t even manage a simple blow job. What the hell was she good for? She didn’t clean, couldn’t cook, refused to fuck, but she had four of his kids. He couldn’t afford the child support he was paying now, and he knew good and well that he couldn’t afford more.
Yeah, something had to change. And soon.